Sunday, September 18, 2016

Don't Make a Scene: Help!

The Set-Up: It's easy to dismiss the second film featuring The Beatles, Help! The film has the smell of ganja all over it—the boys were heavy smokers at the time, and Richard Lester's biggest task was keeping them ON task. More often than not, the lads would giggle through takes, run off for a quick hit after (and even during) a shot, and were generally silly throughout. It's why there's a slight disconnected quality to Help! especially in shots where all four of them are together—they'd stumble over lines and each other. One scene in Buckingham Palace involving a card game took days of filming. All due to the wacky-weed.

But that disconnected quality gave Lester, who became "The Beatles director" due to his Beatle-admired work with "The Goon Show," to make the film even more dis-jointed (pun intended) with humorous cut-aways, larky superimposed titles and interruptions, some in context, some not.* This "anything goes for a larff" style would be appropriated and juggled over the years, especially by the Monty Python troop.

At the time of filming, John Lennon was going through a particularly tough stage, psychologically—he called it his "Fat Elvis" stage—he was overweight, disoriented by success, and while the other bachelor Beatles were larking about at the height of their fame, he was a married man with child. He was jealous and bitter and felt guilty feeling that way. And the Lennon-penned theme song and his Dylanesque "You've Got to Hide your Love Away" betray this dark side.

It was this movie and it's source music that sparked George Harrison's interest in the sitar and Indian music.

The Story: Several attempts have already been made on Ringo Starr's life (and thus, also, The other Beatles,' John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison) and so the four mop-tops go to the highest authorities. The drummer has been sent a garish red ruby ring from a fan, a potential sacrificial victim to the cult of Kaili. And as per the dictates of the sacrifice, whoever bears the ring has only 24 hours to live, at which point they will be painted red and slaughtered (jolly) with a knife.

That's right. Painted red.


Superintendent: Red?
Superintendent: Red?
Ringo: They have to paint me red before they chop me.
Ringo: It's a different religion from ours...I think.
Superintendent: So this is the famous ring, eh?
Ringo: I'm in fear of my life, you know.
Superintendent: So this is the famous Beatles.
John: So this is the famous Scotland Yard, eh?
Superintendent: So how long do you think YOU'll last?
John: Can't say fairer than that.
John: Great Train Robbery, eh? How's that goin'?
Paul: You don't believe us, do ya?
(The phone rings. Paul grabs a phone and hands it to the Superintendent. The Superintendent answers the other phone)
Superintendent: Chief Superintendent?
(Man on phone) Ringo, please.
Superintendent: It's for you, the famous Ringo.
John: Hold on! It's them.
John: There's only me and Paul...
John: ...know we're here.
George: I know we're here.
Superintendent: Allow me. I'm a bit of a famous mimic in my own small way, you know...
Superintendent: James Cagney....
Superintendent: (adapting a Liverpudlian accent) Hello, this is the famous Ringo here, gear fab...
Superintendent: What is it I can do for you, as it were, gear fab?
George: Not a bit like Cagney.
(Mystic music and Kang's hypnotic voice appear over the phone enticing the listener to do their bidding)
Kang: win-dow...
John: Hey, it is them!
(The Beatles cover their ears and the Superintendant, taken over,
Kang: Go..
Kang: the win-dow!
Kang(over the phone):
(An arrow with a red paint-balloon flies through the window)
(It hits against the far wall)
(A second arrow follows and explodes the paint-balloon, causing George and Paul to run for safety)
(The Superintendent dives under his desk.)
Superintendent: There's a strong case for arming the police. We're not all masochists, you know.
Ringo: Now, you see!
Superintendent: Yes, I believe you. Thousands wouldn't.
Superintendent: Right! Let's get going. Show on the road. Battle commence. Pass me the phone, will you?
Superintendent: Life-line of the service.
Superintendent: Dial 999.
Ringo: We need protection. We've got a record to do tomorrow. I need protection.
Superintendent: And you shall have it.
Superintendent: Get me protection.

Words by Charles Wood and Marc Behm

Pictures by David Watkin and Richard Lester

Help! is available on DVD from Apple Home Video.

* My favorite is an interrupting title card "End of Part 1." Then, "Intermission," followed by a sped-up 10 second sequence of the boys larking in the woods (using Ringo as a yo-yo) accompanied only by sound effects of a chirping bird. Then, "End of Intermission." "Part Two" and a brief clip of the sacrificial victim in the bath having the red scrubbed off her while being admonished by her Mum for being "as bad as your Sister, coming home from work all hours and all colors." "End of Part Two." "Part Three, Later That Evening." Then, the story resumes. (Yeah, I know, but it's funny!)

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